The deep divisions in the Bellevue School District community would challenge an experienced diplomat, let alone a volunteer school board principal. Of the two candidates vying for the District 5 seat, Jane Aras is best placed to bridge the gap.
Aras is a caring listener with a deep concern for the social and emotional well-being of students. She will bring a calming presence to a fractured school community that remains tense and suspicious after last year’s public power struggle between the teachers’ union, parents, district leaders and school board members.
If elected, Aras must be careful not to view listening as an end goal, but as a first step towards decisive action. She needs to be clear about her own views, which she sometimes failed to do during her campaign.
This is particularly evident in Aras’ response to a suggestion that the school board cede responsibility for hiring a new superintendent to serve on a committee of district educators, staff, students, parents and community members. This idea was supported by a coalition that includes members of the BSD Equity Advisory Group, the Bellevue Educators of Color Network, the BSD Asian American Pacific Islander Affinity Group, the Parent Alliance for Black Scholars and the Bellevue Education Association.
But the hiring, supervision and evaluation of superintendents are fundamental responsibilities of any public school board. The only responsible answer from a potential board member is an emphatic ânoâ. In an interview, Aras was not so clear.
âI’m not making any statements at this point to create more stress on our community,â she said. âI’m going to put my energy into helping heal. “
When asked the question a second time, she said she told voters, âGo back and look at the law – the laws around the school board. It’s pretty clear. And that’s what I’m going to do.
Aras ultimately confirmed that she did not believe state law would allow the council to abdicate its responsibility for hiring a district administrator. But this lack of precision will only add to frustration, especially among those who fear that the former BEA-endorsed teacher will prioritize the interests of teachers over parents and students. Aras seems to have the best interests of the students at heart and is more energetic when defending them.
âI think sometimes people get so caught up in their own children or their philosophical position that they forget that what we are talking about are children,â she said. âVoiceless children. And we need to stop our self-centered journeys and put our energy back on the kids. “
Aras competitor Gregg Smith is the father of two elementary-aged children and was also elusive in answering specific questions during interviews. He was an active volunteer before he deregistered them from public schools, he says, fearing the district would change his teaching plans in person.
Smith’s positions on diversity, equity and inclusion have sparked some controversy among district voters. He made comments in a private Facebook group that amplified the misunderstanding of the district’s equity initiatives rather than providing clarity. Especially during this tumultuous time, the district needs leaders who will lead discussions beyond fear and rumor to unite Bellevue parents, teachers, administrators and others in a common cause.